Sooner or later we are all be asked to donate art to one charity or another. Wether you want to help that charity out or not, there are several things to consider before you make that decision.
#1 – You CAN NOT, as the artist, write off the value of the painting on your US taxes.
This is something that those asking for donations will always tell you can do when they try to get you to donate. It’s just not true. The only thing you can write off is the cost of your supplies. That’s it. Wait what?!?! Yep. It’s true. I don’t think that the charity organizers necessarily know this and are openly lying to you, they just don’t know. If someone else buys the painting, they can write off the full value of the art if they then donate it, but not you.
#2 – You are not going to gain that much exposure.
If you decide to donate, do it because you really want to help that charity, not to gain exposure. Every charity will claim that they will be promoting you and what great exposure that this event will be for you and your work. Musicians and fine artists alike hear this every time someone wants us to work for free. “You will get so much great exposure”. So many new artists eat this up. The truth of the matter is you’re not going to catch your big break and be “discovered” because of one event. Many of these charities are so badly organized (they are usually run by volunteers after all), that they don’t always remember to add you to the newsletter/website/printings or any other form of advertising like they promise. They may or may not hold up their end of the deal. Even if they do, it won’t likely make that big of a difference in your career. Of all the times I donated (and there were a lot), never once did I get a commission or sale because of that donation. Really I didn’t care because it was the only way I could help that charity, but you do need to be aware of the reality of promised “exposure”.
#3 – Your work will not usually sell for what it’s worth.
This was a huge reason I stopped donating art and switched to donating cash. If you really want to help your favorite charity, you’re going to be much better off selling the painting yourself and donating the money made (which you could then write off). It is not uncommon to have something that I would have sold for $200 go for $30 at these events. Who exactly are you helping then? Following up with that, you’re cheating out your other collectors who paid full value for their art.
In the end, you need to do what feels right to you. If you choose not to donate, do not feel guilty! You deserve to be paid for your work. If I donated to every charity who contacted me, all of my time would be spent working to make paintings for them.
Many artists will offer their work at a discount to their favorite charities. This encourages them to put in more effort to have your work sell for what it’s actually worth. Some artists will also suggest that the charity find a donor to purchase their work and then donate that to the charity. This donor can then get the full value tax deduction for the work of art, and the artist then is paid for their hard work. If the artist then wants to donate a portion of those funds, they then get a tax deduction as well.